Have You Met… Tomatillos

Eat Well Edibles Have You Met...

This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… tomatillos?

Suspicious about why some pale green tomatoes are hidden inside a tiny crepe paper lantern? You should be. Tomatoes these are not; they’re tomatillos. Oh, and those green salsas at your local Mexican restaurant? Also tomatillo!

Although the literal translation from Spanish is “little tomato,” and another of its monikers is the Mexican husk tomato, the tomatillo (pronounced toe-muh-tee-oh), is only distant kin to that juicy red summertime favorite. Tomatillos are actually more closely related to the ground cherry, or cape gooseberry. These cousins are all members of the extensive and very ancient botanical family Solanaceae, or nightshades,* to which potato, eggplant, bell pepper and chili peppers also belong.

First cultivated by early mesoamerican civilizations, credit goes to the Aztecs for domestication. The tomatillo continues today to be a staple of Mexican and central American cuisines, and is spreading in popularity — for deliciously good reasons.

What’s so great about them?

Naturally low in calories (about 20 per 1/2-cup serving), tomatillos contain zero cholesterol, and negligible amounts of fat and sodium. This serving provides nearly 10% and 15% of your daily needs for vitamin K and vitamin C, respectively, plus about 5% of the DVs for potassiummanganesefiber and niacin (B3).

Tomatillos contain the pigments lutein and zeaxanthin — antioxidant carotenoids associated with improved eye health and reduced risk of age-related visual decline, including macular degeneration. Research is studying potentially anti-cancer compounds called anolides found in tomatillos, which may help protect men from the formation of colon cancer cells.

In small amounts (roughly 1% to 3% of your daily needs per serving), tomatillos provide magnesiumphosphorousiron and the trace mineral copper, plus vitamin A and several of the other B vitamins.

*Concerned about eating nightshade fruit + veg? Let us please debunk the myths.

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Have You Met… Tofu

Eat Well Have You Met...

This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… tofu?

Tofu receives an unfair share of bad press — from the dismal beliefs that it’s bland and rubbery, to the damning fears that soy foods are detrimental to health.

Fortunately, these claims are mostly misguided. Tofu is a true chameleon ingredient, and a little creativity goes a long way + the current body of research indicates that the average amount of soy foods, including tofu, consumed in a typical Western diet is entirely safe, even health-promoting, for the majority of people.

In this edition of HYM I will present you with more of these facts, and help set the record straight!

What is it?

Originating in China over 2,000 years ago, with some records suggesting its first appearance c. AD 965, tofu has been a dietary staple of Chinese, Japanese and other southeast Asian cultures. Often thought of as a meat alternative for vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike, this is actually not the case in Asia, where it is quite often served alongside or incorporated into meat dishes.

Also known as bean curd, tofu is a product of soy(bean)milk. The milk is heated and inoculated with natural acids, enzymes or salts promote coagulation, forming curds. Much like cheesemaking, the curds are separated from the liquid, then pressed and cut into blocks. The duration of pressing the soybean curd is what determines the ultimate consistency.

What’s so great about it?

For less than 100 calories and no cholesterol per 3-ounce serving, tofu is rich in antioxidant selenium and the trace mineral manganese, and is a good source of iron, magnesium, and immune-boosting zinc, plus mono- and poly-unsaturated fats for heart and brain health. Tofu is an excellent source of calcium, and becomes even more so when manufactured with a natural calcium compound. It is also a source of the B-vitamin folate and choline — two nutrients that offer some protection from development of birth defects of in a developing fetus.

This plant-based protein ranges from roughly 6 to 10 grams per serving, depending on the method of processing and style, and is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains the full complement of essential amino acids. Tofu is naturally gluten-free, but if you are following a low FODMAP (“fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols”) eating plan, note that silken tofu is considered high FODMAP, while firm tofu is considered low FODMAP.

New research also links regular intake of soy foods, including tofu, to significantly improved insulin resistance and blood pressure, increased antioxidant activity, and lower levels of triglyceride and cholesterol. Soybeans and soy foods, including tofu, are the most concentrated sources of isoflavones currently known in the human diet. Isoflavones are bio-active chemicals called phytoestrogens — plant-based compounds that very weakly mimic the effects of estrogen in the body.

Based on current research, moderate consumption of whole, unprocessed soy foods — tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, soy nuts, soy sauce — is considered safe* for menopausal and postmenopausal women (reduces symptoms), and individuals with cancer (may even help prevent breast and prostate cancers). Soy is also associated in some instances with increased fertility, and may protect against oxidative damage in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Additionally, recent studies suggests that moderate intake should have no significant effect on sperm count, sperm motility, or male reproductive hormone levels, including testosterone.

Two groups that should exercise some caution with tofu and other whole soy foods, are those with thyroid issues and history of breast cancer. Consuming smaller amounts on occasion should be fine, and the impressive anti-cancer and other health benefits of soy foods likely outweigh potential concerns. However, it is, and will always be, my professional advice to talk first with your physician about recommendations based on your personal medical history and treatment plan. And when conducting your own research, always check the sources!

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Have You Met… Mussels

Eat Well Edibles Have You Met...

This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… Mussels?

Mussels — like clams, oysters and scallops — are bivalve mollusks with two hinged shells of their own making, each with a retractable “foot” that allows movement and burrowing. While found in both marine and fresh habitats, the latter are typically left for otters, raccoon and larger aquatic predators. Mussels themselves are filter-feeders, effectively straining microscopic plants and animals as food from the waters around them. Among these filtered nutrients is iron, which is used to produce an adhesive material for attachment to rocks, boats, piers and other submerged surfaces along the shoreline.

Fun fact: Some species of mussels can live to up to 100 years. At the maximum rate of filtration of 20 gallons per day, that’s 730,000 gallons in one lifetime — nearly 100,000 more than is contained in one Olympic-sized swimming pool!

What’s so great about them?

One 3-ounce serving of cooked mussels provides approximately 146 calories and is a great source of high-quality complete protein — more than 20 grams. This serving offers over 100% of your daily selenium, more than 250% of manganese, and nearly 350% of vitamin B12. In addition, mussels are a good source of antioxidant vitamin C, folate, phosphorous and zinc.

Ounce for ounce mussels provide more than 3x the amount of dietary iron than a beef tenderloin steak (5.71 mg vs. 1.74 mg), but are much leaner. Total and saturated fats are very low – 4 grams and less than 1 gram per serving, respectively. They are also among the richest sources of unsaturated fats in shellfish, associated with improved triglyceride levels, better heart and skin health, and reduced risk of certain cancers, age-related cognitive decline and diseases of the eye. Found in particularly high amounts are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – over 600 mg per serving – considered the most beneficial omega-3 fats.

Mussels are a natural source of sodium, providing roughly 315 mg of the ≤ 1,500 mg/day. And even though mussels, like shrimp and other shellfish, are higher in cholesterol (about 48 mg per serving) they are exceptions in the high cholesterol category due to minimal saturated fat and no trans fat – the two dietary factors that directly, and more importantly, contribute to higher blood cholesterol levels.

Because of the current farming methods used, mussels are one of the most sustainable, ocean-friendly shellfish and are considered a “best choice” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list. They are also low in contaminants, toxins and heavy metals, like mercury. Furthermore, they are far less expensive than other shelled seafood, such as crab or lobster.

Mussels in bag

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Have You Met… Collard Greens

Eat Well Edibles Grow Well Have You Met...

This post is part of the series Have you met… meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… collard greens?

Cultivated around the globe for more than 2,000 years, collards are nothing new. And yet, this hardy cruciferous vegetable is often overshadowed by trendier greens like kale and rainbow-stemmed Swiss chard.

Hailing from the northern Midwest, it wasn’t until we moved to North Carolina that we experimented with and eventually embraced collards. Now they rank among our go-to veg. Edible from leaf to stalk, we love them for their robust flavor and versatility in the kitchen. In the cooler months finding massive bunches grown by a regional farmer isn’t difficult. In the summer and autumn, we’re all about sweet, tender home-grown!

Here’s hoping I can help give another of the dark leafies the attention it rightfully deserves…

Collard greens bunch
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Have You Met… Plantains

Eat Well Have You Met...

This post is part of the series Have you met… meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.

Have you met… plantains?

Plantains, known as platanos in Spanish, are often misunderstood in this part of the world. Though they belong to the same genus as bananas, Musa, they are not gigantic versions of our common lunchbox fruit. In fact, plantains are an entirely separate species. When their powers are combined, these look-alikes comprise the world’s largest fruit crop!

Cultivation and consumption of plantains have occurred throughout Southeast Asia, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa for many centuries. These starchier cousins to the banana are often considered a staple food, both for their great taste and flexibility in a wide range of simple methods, and as a concentrated source of calories and quick energy if food becomes scarce.

To this day plantains are grown in these regions, as well as some of the warmer parts of the United States, like southern Florida. The current leader in plantain production? The tiny east-central African nation, Uganda.

Plantains_HGN

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